What Venezuelans Are Saying About Their New National Cryptocurrency

Social media has been abuzz since Tuesday’s initial sale of the forthcoming Venezuelan government-backed cryptocurrency, the petro, though reviews are so far mixed.

So far, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has claimed that the country had collected a whopping $735 million during the first day of its presale for the new cryptocurrency. In spite of a lack of proof, the claim came amid a splashy, nationally-televised broadcast where Maduro himself declared that the country has “taken a giant step into the 21st century.”

Venezuela’s government first unveiled the petro back in December, setting up a dedicated government agency to oversee the development of the project and build up an ecosystem for it within the South American nation. In anticipation of the sale, the government published a white paper, a buyer’s guide and, most recently, newly crafted rules for creating cryptocurrency exchanges within Venezuela.

The initiative has sparked a range of tweets in support – and in opposition – to the idea, buoyed by a dedicated hashtag, #AlFuturoConElPetro (which translates to “to the future with the petro”).

For instance, one advocate tweeted, “The new economic era for Venezuela begins. The newborn criptomoneda called el petro has many challenges ahead, but its armoring will be the potential for the progressive regularization of the economy.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, members of the country’s National Assembly – which is controlled by political parties in opposition to Maduro – have blasted the move, including in statements issued just hours after Tuesday’s broadcast event.

Among those taking a public stance against the petro is Marialbert Barrios, a National Assembly deputy who asked: “Who in their right mind buys a [cryptocurrency] from a government that does not pay the foreign debt, with an economy in hyperinflation?”

The pushback from the Assembly comes amid an acute political standoff between opposition forces and the Maduro government. According to Reuters, opposition parties are expected to boycott an upcoming presidential election in April, which they argue is rigged in Maduro’s favor.

Deputy Rafael Guzman called the cryptocurrency “fraudulent,” reiterating past arguments that it will fuel illegal activity.

“[The] petro is a fraudulent, illegal and invalid mechanism for the government to continue its shady business and money laundering, because it is not known where those resources will come from,” he wrote.

Base of support

In contrast with the denunciations from the opposition-controlled Assembly, various offices within the Venezuelan government have used their social media presences to boost agencies that promote the petro.

Among those is SENIAT, Venezuela’s tax and revenue authority, which claimed that residents can use the petro to pay their tax liabilities, among other things.

“The state will accept the payment of national taxes, duties, fees, contributions and public services in petro,” the agency wrote…

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